This is it. We are on the precipice of change. E3 is right around the corner and we are all hoping we'll get the answers we're looking for. Whether you are a hardcore gamer or a causal one, we're all hoping that the industry will find a way to survive another year. Up until now, I'd never questioned that. I never questioned videogame companies, or wondered about Microsoft or Sony or Nintendo. They were all just there, doing their thing. Now I'm watching them crumble like the United States economy and I can't help but wonder if this is what we need.
Can we, as a community, really survive another generation that's looking as bleak as this one? In the last few years, some of the complaints listed by the Internet include: on-disc DLC, DLC required for full game experience, digital download only, anything having to do with EA, abuse of fan dedication (Mass Effect 3), locked used games, share buttons on controllers, and general hullabaloo all over. Let's think back to the beginning, back when gaming was fun and our main complaint was that we didn't have enough time in the day, or our graphics card wasn't good enough to play Doom.
Then Small Disclaimer: I can only give opinionated accounts from my own childhood and my first game system was the Sega Genesis with Sega CD, so I'm sorry in advance if I skip over something that might be otherwise important.
The year is 1972, and Pong has just been released. There is nowhere to go but up, and over the course of the next few years that's exactly where the industry will go. Pong was a game and a system all in one, a cabinet. That same year the Magnavox Odyssey was released. This became the beginning of what would become first generation consoles.
By the mid 70s to early 80s we had a range of second generation consoles from Mattel, Atari, Magnavox and Fairchild Semiconductor. (You can find all of this on Wikipedia.) Videogames were still new and almost a novelty item. I guess people thought they were some kind of fad. According to the Internet, the next stop on our Time Travel Bus is referred to as the 'Golden Age of Arcade Videogames'. I can only assume this was the beginning of real arcades, tons of extremely popular cabinets and where most of our parents spent their childhood.
So we're getting there. We've gone from novelty item to something real, something to be wary of and something that was fun to play. That's important. The most important thing about games from Then is that they were FUN.
And while the third generation was nothing to sneeze at, let's skip right on over to the fourth generation. When Sega Genesis came out I was 8 years old. My dad had brought it over from his parent's house and so at the time I assumed it was old. Older than me anyway. It's funny to know, now, that it wasn't. I can't speak about the Super Famicom, but man did I love my Genesis. There were 3D environments, and tasks, and games, and quests, and fights and ... I could go on and on. At the time, it didn't matter to me what system I was playing on. What mattered was the game. Sega was just the name on the black box I could play Sonic on. Just like Nintendo was the name on the N64 that brought me Pokemon Snap.
I wanted the next game. It wasn't about fighting with the industry for a $400 glorified computer. It was about that port to adventure and mystery. It was about experiencing a sense of childhood and nostalgia for something you grew up with, both adults and kids alike. Everyone I know looks back on this time fondly. We talk about the 'simple' days and how things used to be.
It wasn't until I got my Playstation 2 that things started changing.
Not Quite Yet Sorry, that's a bit of a lie. We still have a little bit of time before the industry became a big part of gamer's lives. In 2000, the Playstation 2 was released, followed quickly by the Nintendo Gamecube and the Xbox in 2001. When they brought my PS2 home and told me I could play more videogames, I was the happiest kid in the world. I was 10 and I'd already beaten every mini-game in Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2; I needed something new.
In my personal, and extremely biased opinion, the Playstation 2 was the greatest system that has ever been released, and I think that it is even better than the eighth generation consoles coming out later this year/early next year. Never in my life were there so many games I could play. It was endless. There was no DLC, no worrying about the price of used games. Even the new ones didn't cost more than $40 for a few months!
You've probably realized that I haven't included any handhelds in this article by now. I want to concentrate solely on the consoles and not the handhelds to make a point, so bear with me.
Today I have over 100 PS2 games. I have about 10-15 Gamecube games and I never had an Xbox. Okay, so what's the point? What are you trying to prove with all of this? Well, sixth generation consoles were part of the millenium and part of the time period where people actually began to respect gaming and see it as a potentially gigantic field. This isn't to say this wasn't happening before these consoles came out, but I do think these consoles helped mark the sixth gen as a turning point for gamers everywhere.
And the most important thing was still valued: the games were fun. You could feel the passion that game studios had for their art, and the respect that went along with it. It's a respect you'll be hard-pressed to find now.
Now Here we are. Seventh generation, on the verge of the eighth. Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii. Soon to be followed by Xbox One, Playstation 4, with the Wii U having already made it's debut. The prices of videogames new are around $60 and go as high as $120 for a limited edition. Not to mention the countless packs of DLC that online gameplay has provided to expand the gaming experience.
Now, I am not sitting here and telling you that all of this is bad news. That is not what I'm trying to say. In fact, with or without DLC games like Dragon Age: Origins are still amazing games! However, I am trying to point out the industry's grubby little hands all over my stuff, and the publishers trying to shove it all down my throat. In the last few years I feel like I've watched the industry go from an honest and innocent little kid to an angsty and rebellious teenager, picking people's pockets and holding people up at gunpoint. They're like a lazy mafia leader who threatens you from afar and let's you continue to fuck up until you're in over your head and owe them your soul.
I'm not sure they'll grow up into that mature self aware adult we know they can be.
We have publishers like EA suffocating studios like Bioware. The studio can't make the kind of game that consumers used to love but EA doesn't care about passion; EA is all about the numbers. What happened to the love? What happened to the excitement? Yes, as time moves on and the economy changes, things get more expensive. The more technology we use the more shit costs. It is inevitable and we need to keep moving forward.
I don't think this means that publishers have the right to bleed the community dry though. The Playstation isn't just the system sitting under your TV letting you play Devil May Cry 4, it's the SONY Playstation. It's the MICROSOFT Xbox 360. We've been caught in a disgustingly vicious cycle! The big companies and the publishers all want money from us, the consumers. So they raise prices, they set out DLC that might even be mandatory to a full-game experience. They control us and the creators. They manipulate us.
They manipulate the love that we've held deep inside ourselves. The only way to stop the cycle is to simply not buy the product right? Well that's all well and good, but you can't just ask us to stop being gamers. So we have to game in different ways: PC versions, Steam (thank Andraste for Gabe Newell). And for some people, that works. Unfortunately, not for someone like me.
I am a tried and true console gamer, and of this I am proud. No I do not have your hi-res graphics card, but I also don't have to be confined to a desk or with a burning hunk of technology on my lap. I don't want to get into an argument about if one is better than the other, that's for another day. But I do want to help reach out to others like me and explore the future.
The Future of Gaming In an ideal world, games would be easily accessed and shared by everyone. They would be affordable to all walks of life from the poor college student to the family of five down the street. Each new generation would present a type of technology not seen before, thereby improving upon the last. The DLC would never be mandatory, and would only enhance the game. And studios would be free to create the games as they wanted, allowing publishers to have a say only once the product was finished. (We wouldn't want another Assassin's Creed What-Number-Are-We-On-Now incident.)
Instead, we have the eighth generation. Of the three major consoles released/being released, the Wii U is the only one with a major component change to its strategy. We don't even know what the PS4 looks like. All we know is that it has a 'share' button on its controller. The Xbox One has a ton of rumors flying around, such as the hacking abilities of the built-in Kinect, and the status of used games. There isn't any technology here that we haven't already had for a long time.
This society, which has become obsessed with technology, has forgotten itself. Sure, we ask about a few of the games coming out for the console, but mostly we ask about the specs. 'Who really cares what game is coming out, I'm going to buy it anyway just because.' This mentality is not as scarce as you'd think.
I can't even be told otherwise about this one. It might be different for different people, but how many PS3 games do you have? Honestly? I have 3. I have a monster of a PS3. It is one of the original backwards compatible chunky beasts, costing way more money than any kind you can buy now, and I only have 3 games for it. All the games I play on it use the PS2 or PS1 emulator that's built in.
As for my Xbox 360, I do have quite a few more games, but I hear a rumor that the Xbox One isn't backwards compatible. So what good is it? I have a built-in Kinect? Oh man. I can't just go out and buy one and hook it up.
For me, the industry has always been about the games. I don't care how I get to play them. But with all these exclusivity contracts (see Bayonetta 2) we're not really getting anywhere. Will I still be able to play Dragon Age: Inquisitions? Probably not!
In conclusion, I think that the community has lost its voice and needs to stand up for itself and for the creators. I think that we need to give our 'patrons' demands, not let them demand it of us. I think, that we will lose everything if we let this go on. There will be no end to the blood they try to squeeze from our stones. I want to go back to asking about games and not consoles. And right now, the only company that seems even remotely headed in that direction is Nintendo.
Whether you agree with me or not, this next generation will mark a turning point for the industry and for consumers. It's up to us to change what we don't like and shape the future.